Until Chino Amobi’s debut album, Paradiso, nobody had successfully used sound to comprehensively capture the condition of the black body, beyond just one dimension of joy or pain. The power of sound lies in its fluid nature, lending it an uncanny ability to escape the rigid architecture of metrics like frequencies to light up the most basic of human emotions. Such that a single note, programmed in the right fashion can trigger fear, anxiety, joy, love or pain. This hour long tape is a vivid exposition of this power, triggering the latent anxiety that accompanies navigating a shadowy world, in search of a promised paradise.
The 21-track album released in May 2017 via NON, a collective of disruptive artists, is a sonic trip through a constantly evolving landscape that aims at capturing various snapshot of a black bodies moving through our modern world, in search of a distant and nebulous paradise. With pastels of kinetic drums loops, haunting groans and screams, muffled phrases, eerie poetry and space age drones, the Virginia based Nigerian sound artist creates a maze of ranging atmospheres as he comments of his social and political condition as a black person through various clips of conversation and dialogue, disguised in rapidly transitioning sounds. However, despite the unfamiliarity and the almost stubborn drive to subvert rhythm, you manage to navigate the project, guided by the familiar emotions each track awakens in you.
The album opens with the recitation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The City in the Sea on the opening song LAW I (THE CITY IN THE SEA) over waves rushing to a crashing death and thunder ripping through the sky. The next song GÆNOVA is much more warm and typifies the collaging technique used on the project similar to early electronic sampling from Brian Eno. Beginning with banging industrial snares, the songs very quickly shifts to an eerie mood, layered with distorted arabic prayers, zig zagging whistles, shots and claps, before finding rhythm with the Arabian flute line smacked in the middle of the song. This perfectly sums up Amobi’s process of splashing sounds together to find rhythm through quick transitions. DIXIE SHRINE however, provide temporary respites, beginning with temperate and tame electro bass and drum lops, similar to early Steve Reich, punctuated by this distinct trap siren popularized by Metro Boomin and Zaytoven. The Bon Iver-esque groaned vocal are almost a hypnotic doze of peace before the BPM speeds up and the song mutates into the familiar sonic signature of urgent distress on the project.
To understand Chino Amobi’s sound and the colossus or sincere emotions that Paradiso is, you’d have to begin by processing his method as an artist. On Airport Music For Black Folk (2016), Amobi imagines the sonic space inhabited by black people in motion, by demonstrating the musical footprints they would encounter and leave whilst transitioning through airports. The EP swirls with razer sharps ambient sounds and comforting beeps and clicks, probably woven from the range of sounds available at most airports, yet interpreted from the position of black body navigating this international yet predominantly Eurocentric space and demonstrating the socio-politcal themes of representations and reclaiming space that are core in his artistic practice.
This metaphor of motion, often mistaken for fluidity, is also extended onto Paradiso. The certificate of identity with cryptic yet familiar inscriptions and a lost look on his mugshot inspired ID picture, doubling as the covert art for the project foreshadows the journey metaphor. For Amobi, navigating space, be it physical, mental, sonic, or spiritual is not a fluid, but is rather gritty and rough, inhibited by the adversity black people are forced to confront. As such he makes no attempt to butter his trip to paradise with velvety melodies or slick lyrics. Rather he gives you the reality of his and our journey in its unpolished form, imploring listeners to extract hope for a nervous and somewhat pessimistic standpoint.
One thing that makes this body of work standout is how it radically disrupts the African electronic music canon. Early African electronic music artists like Ata Kak, William Onyeabor, Francis Bebey ,ingenuingly used the synthesizer to create alternate genres from the moulds of electro, disco, funk, where they could represent themselves and their narratives and consequently stretching the boundaries of synthetically produced sounds around dance. Modern african electronic musical forms like Gqom or Azonto persist in this similar vein of dance based electronic sounds. However, Chino Amobi has the luxury to experiment, guided by the work they left behind. His album weaponizes sounds as an instrument of radical change through noise ,rather than the dance, in a world in dire need of revolution. He brings a refreshing new identity to the African electronic scene.
Paradiso tells the story of the black body through electronic music, presenting a candid and tangible dimension that can only be experience through this haphazard mess of sounds, tightly knit by the breadcrumbs of relatable noises and distant voices, layered at various points on the projects. For many, it might be hard to get through the bumps as it is programmed to go against the grain and challenge the way you’re used to cognitively processing sounds. However, this prescriptive unlearning is all Chino Amobi hopes to achieve, teaching his audience to see his journey beyond what is visible as he jets off in search of Paradiso.
Written by Hakeem Adam